Chump Change Gets the Super-Rich to Spill the Beans

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Photograph: Getty Images

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Photograph: Getty Images

The wealthy are hounded for all sorts of things. People ask them for donations, investments, introductions. And for their opinions. With so much wealth in the U.S. in the hands of relatively few, their views can have economic consequences. So while most people fight to get their opinions heard, the rich get paid for theirs.

Regular people may get paid to take a survey -- a dollar, or maybe $5. The super-rich need a bigger incentive. For very high-net worth targets, research firm Spectrem Group promises $300. Survey firm Ipsos MediaCT antes up $500 for its highest-end surveys. For someone worth $20 million, that’s chump change -- or 0.0025 percent of their net worth. But one of the cash's functions is to get people to take the survey seriously.

It works. The rich who answer the surveys do take it seriously -- at least the money part. Spectrem experimented with offering to send the money to a charity of the person’s choice. All respondents asked for the money to be sent to them instead and they'd handle the donation, says Spectrem managing director Catherine McBreen. "I guess that's why they are high-net worth and I'm not," she says.

Some millionaires even call to complain if they don't receive their checks in a timely manner, she says.

Others just want to talk -- about which private jets are better than others, or about difficult decisions (Bentley or Ferrari?). They'll even discuss business failures and mistakes, says Boston College Professor Paul Schervish, who runs surveys for the college’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. The common theme among all these stories: happy endings.

"The hardest thing to do is to get them to start talking," says Steve Kraus, who runs the 13,000-respondent Ipsos Affluent Survey. "The second hardest thing to get them to do is stop talking."

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